Shettima Ali Monguno, elder statesman, educationist, politician and international public servant, passed on at the age of 90, on July 8. I received several calls from friends and associates who expressed their condolences. They knew that I held him in reverence: a great man of gifted rare qualities worthy of emulation.
Trained as a teacher in Bauchi and Katsina colleges, Monguno also attended the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, which was about the highest educational institution in Northern Nigeria of the time. He was later educated at the Moray House College of Education and the University of Edinburgh. For more than 50 years, he offered distinguished public service to the Nigerian government, international organisations, educational institutions, and various social groups.
Whoever came across him would have found in Monguno a simple gentleman who was clearly transparent, doubtlessly honest and possessing genuine attributes of excellent leadership. My impression of Monguno I formed from the rare privilege of my encounters with him since my school days in Maiduguri. I first encountered Malam Ali Zankali or simply Ali Monguno, as he was then known, when I was a school boy in the late 1950s. He was then, a teacher, later a bursar before being elevated to an Education Officer in Maiduguri.
He came to play football and hockey with us, the students, almost every evening at the Borno Provincial Secondary School old site, situated along Dandal Way, Maiduguri. He was remarkably quite agile, in spite of his huge well-built carriage and commanding stature. He usually addressed us in and outside the games field. We admired his soft measured speech and good command of English. Since then, I have held him in high esteem.
He left the education profession for politics and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1959 and deservedly got a ministerial post in the First Republic under Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. As is well known, the First Republic was terminated by the military intervention of 1966. The subsequent government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon saw his return to service still in a political position at the onset of the Nigerian civil war in1967.
He held the post of a Federal Commissioner responsible firstly for Trade and Industries and later for Mines and Power. It was at the Six-Storey Building Broad Street, Lagos, housing the Ministry of Mines and Power that we again met in 1970s. I was then holding the post of an Assistant Secretary, a fairly junior post in the Federal Service. That encounter gave me another rare opportunity to further interact with him at close quarters.
What struck us most at the ministry was Monguno’s transparent, honest and humble leadership. His predecessor in office was Dr. Russell A. Barau Dikko, the first medical doctor in Northern Nigeria. They both offered exemplary leadership, which left lasting impressions on us, the staff serving under them. Though they were both responsible for the all-important petroleum resources portfolio, they showed nothing but unqualified transparency and resourcefulness in managing the ministry and government business generally.
They shunned all temptations, greed and trappings of high public office. Monguno, like Dr Barau Dikko before him, accounted to the last kobo money given to him to attend meetings of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which he served as President from 1972 to 1973. He paid back to the treasury any unspent amount of public money upon his return from official overseas trips. One cannot but be guided by his exemplary conduct.
Of course, I have had several other encounters with Monguno ever since he left his ministerial appointments. One of these was my meeting with him about two decades ago in the foyer of one of the highbrow hotels at Abuja. He had flown in from Maiduguri in respect of a visa application for his spouse; the embassy had wanted to prove the genuineness of their relationship. He could have used some contacts in government without personally coming to Abuja, but he rightly and humbly handled the matter as a private affair.
Our paths crossed again when Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, awarded both of us honorary doctorate degrees in 2014. I had looked forward to our meeting at the award ceremony. Unfortunately, he could not make it to the event due to old age. He sent a representative, however, and his long and rich citation read at the event was quite impressive.
Briefly put, he was honoured in recognition of his being a “widely acclaimed educationist and philanthropist who established schools to assist the less privileged in addition to donating text and exercise books to various schools and indigent students. He is also known for his selfless service to humanity and his vicarious concern for the victims of the Boko Haram insurgents by offering to negotiate with the insurgents at the risk of his life.” It was, indeed, an honour and privilege to be associated with such a great personality.
Monguno, as one of the earliest northerners to receive Western education, once recounted the warm and jubilant reception accorded him by his native town, Monguno, when he turned up as a minister. In acknowledgement of the joyous reception, he said he was surprised to note that it was in sharp contrast to his parent’s strong objection to his enrolment in school in 1935. Nothing succeeds like success, one would say.
Monguno would be sorely missed for the able leadership he provided the Borno Elders Forum up to his last days. He graciously signed my letter of appointment as a member of that forum in 2013. Monguno, D. Litt, LLD, CFR, who was also honoured with the traditional title of Shettima by the Shehu of Borno, would be remembered as a principled politician and a highly respected elder statesman.
–– Usman is a former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency.